Paul Greenberg

"I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother - a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe. These people are a part of me."

Well and loyally said.

But we are not tested just once. It wasn't long before another demagogue in a clerical collar, the Rev. Michael Pfleger, showed up at Barack Obama's church to deliver his own rant. This time it was an ugly, jeering attack on Hillary Clinton as the embodiment of white entitlement. How the guest speaker strutted and fretted his brief hour on the stage, full of sound and fury signifying nothing, appealing to the basest prejudices of his listeners, stoking their anger, stroking their hatreds like a virtuoso. This from a priest. In a church.

That must have been the breaking point. Barack Obama's political career had prospered mightily by his association with his church. It gave him a power base in the African American community. But by now his church membership had become not a political asset but an ever growing liability. He announced he was leaving the church.

So much for his not abandoning his church, his family, his community. His classic speech back in the spring had become inoperative. The political cost of sticking by his earlier eloquence had become too high. It was time to cut his losses. Politics happens.

I can understand the senator's temptation. I think of not just the partisan gibberish I've heard from the pulpit of my own temple over the years, but the moral affronts. (Three Cheers for Abortion!) What contempt for what I'd always understood to be of the essence of Jewish teaching - Choose Life.

So, yes, I can understand how tempting it would be to walk away, give up, find a new congregation. Then I think of what a sage named Hillel said long ago: Do not separate yourself from the community. Resist the temptation. Stay and fight. Bear witness. Take your stand within the community, not apart from it. What good is a cloistered virtue that shrinks from any challenge? A uniformity of belief may be comfortable, without challenge or risk, but it's also debilitating. Belief unquestioned does not grow; it atrophies. So I choose to stay. Of course I'm not a politician, and Barack Obama has a lot more to lose by staying with his church.

This was but one early test of the candidate's principles, one more moment of truth in a long campaign that will surely be full of them. Others will arise. Such is politics. Such is life.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.